Why do girls gossip so much? Let me count the ways. It starts early in life, and for most persists throughout their lifetime. I have listened to girls in grade school through college at my retreats and camps discussing this issue, and the following are reasons they give for why people gossip.
Gossiping first and foremost becomes a way for girls to connect, even if it’s at the expense of others. Sharing stories and information bonds girls, giving them some common interests and knowledge. It’s a way to feel part of the group, to be noticed and heard, and to feel important. The juicier the news being spread, the more excitement and energy girls receive from the interaction. Connecting through talking with friends, gossiping, and grooming each other activates the pleasure centers of their brains, especially if they share secrets with romantic or sexual implications. It gives them a huge dopamine and oxytocin rush, thus the thrill.
Another purpose of gossiping is to obtain valuable information. Adolescent girls are desperate to know what other girls think, what problems and insecurities they have, what they are really like behind their masks, and how friends are judging peers. They learn what is and is not acceptable by how girls talk about each other; it’s a way they create social norms that defines their group. Sharing like this also allows girls to learn how peers might react to their own ideas and perspectives by how friends judge other peers.
Trading secrets and gossip creates a level of intimacy girls don’t have with just anyone. Being able to share private notes proves their importance, acceptance, and standing in the group, and having more inside knowledge raises their standing.
Most girls have a hard time handling their conflicts directly with friends because they are so afraid of losing a friendship. Gossiping becomes a way to work out your thoughts and feelings without having to confront people. If your clique agrees with you and takes your side, it’s validation that you are right. Saying to others what you fear saying to your tormentor’s face is a way to get revenge but still appear to be ‘nice’.
We need to help girls become aware of the costs to them and their class/team when gossiping is widespread. It definitely takes away safety in any group, making it harder to be authentic and speak your truth. Girls also need healthier ways to connect than by talking about others behind their backs or spreading rumors. They need to be challenged to have the courage to stand up for peers who aren’t there, and not let Queen Bees dictate how the group connects.
A girl who refuses to gossip or get sucked into such drama teaches everyone that they are a loyal friend who has their back. That kind of person is a true friend and a powerful leader who can be trusted.